Our shuttlers take to the courts hoping to end drought in All-England


BY RAJES PAUL

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian shuttlers will swing into action today at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham aiming to end the country's long and agonising wait for the men's singles and doubles titles at the All-England championships. 

Malaysia's flag flew high in Birmingham 37 years ago when Tan Aik Huang emerged as the men's singles champion and again 21 years ago when the Sidek brothers, Razif and Jalani, captured the doubles crown.  

Can the new men's singles and doubles coaches - Misbun Sidek and Yap Kim Hock - help the Malaysian players rise to the occasion this time? 

At least one thing's for sure – the players have vowed to give their best. 

Today, Wong Choong Hann, Lee Chong Wei, Lee Tsuen Seng, Yong Hock Kin and the Hashim brothers of Roslin and Hafiz will open their campaign. 

The doubles players in action today are Chan Chong Ming-Chew Choon Eng, Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah and Chang Kim Wai-Hong Chieng Hun. 

Choong Hann, the second seed, and world number six pair Chong Ming-Choon Eng are Malaysia's best bets to win honours. 

After opting to become an independent player, Hock Kin, who is all fired up to prove himself, may be the dark horse in this tournament while the 2001 semi-finalists Tan Fook-Wan Wah can be counted upon to do well in probably their last outing together at the All-England. 

Youngsters Chong Wei, the national champion, and Hafiz, the Manchester Commonwealth Games champion, are players for the future and are not expected to go far in the tournament though both have vowed to give their opponents a run for their money. 

The 22-year-old Chong Ming said they are well-prepared, thanks to coach Kim Hock. 

“Our coach is the last Malaysian to feature in the men's doubles final. We will give our best and try to enter the final,” said Chong Ming, who, together with his partner Choon Eng, get a first round bye. 

Kim Hock and Cheah Soon Kit lost in the 1996 final to the formidable Indonesian pair of Ricky Subagja-Rexy Mainaky. 

An Indonesian pair is also likely to stand in Chong Ming-Choon Eng's path to the final. Barring any upsets, the Malaysians are expected to play Candra Wijaya-Sigit Budiarto in the semi-finals. 

“We beat them for the first time at the Asian Games (in Busan last year). If we meet them again, we will try to improve our record against them,” said Chong Ming.  

The Malaysian pair had lost to the Indonesians three times before prevailing in the quarter-finals of the Asiad. 

Like the men's doubles, the singles shuttlers will also be seeking to emulate coach Misbun's feat – he is the first Malaysian after Aik Huang to have reached the All-England final in 1986. 

Three other Malaysians - Foo Kok Keong, Rashid Sidek and Ong Ewe Hock - also reached the finals in 1991, 1996 and 1998 but none were able to end Malaysia's men's singles title drought. 

“Based on our singles players' capabilities, they can all reach the quarter-finals. And if they really play true to their form, I am sure one of them can make it to the final and even win the title for Malaysia,” said Misbun. 

Among all the singles players, only Hafiz is expected to face a tough first round tie. He will be up against the Asian Badminton Championships winner Sony Dwi Kuncoro of Indonesia today.  

Choong Hann should get past Jens Roch of Germany; Hock Kin should tame England's Andrew Smith; Tsuen Seng should beat Spaniard Arturo Ruiz; Chong Wei should prevail over Hong Kong's Ng Wei; and Roslin should have no problem against a qualifier. 

In the men’s doubles, Kim Wai-Chieng Hun can expect a tough time against Indonesians Hadiyanto Luluk-Yulianto Alven.  

Tan Fook-Wan Wah, meanwhile, will play qualifiers, likely to be Cheng Rui-Chen Qiqiu of China. 

For the record, no Malaysian player made it to the quarter-final last year. 

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